What Is Hepatitis?
"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can also cause hepatitis.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. When first infected, a person can develop an "acute" infection, which can range in severity from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization.
Acute Hepatitis C is a short-termed illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For reasons that are not known, 15%-25% of people "clear" the virus without treatment. Approximately 75%-85% of people who become infected with the Hepatitis C virus develop "chronic," or lifelong, infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person's body. Over time, it can lead to serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. although uncommon, outbreaks of Hepatitis C have occurred from blood contamination in medical settings.
How Is Hepatitis C Treated?
Since acute Hepatitis C rarely causes symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated. When it is diagnosed, doctors recommend rest, adequate nutrition, fluids, and antiviral medications. People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease. Even though a person may not have symptoms or feel sick, damage to the liver can still occur. Antiviral medication can be used to treat some people with chronic Hepatitis C, although not everyone needs or can benefit from treatment. For many, treatment can be successful and results in the virus no long being detected.
Who Should Get Tested?
Testing for Hepatitis C is recommended for certain groups, including people who:
- Currently inject drugs
- Injected drugs in the past, even if it was just once or occurred many years ago
- Have HIV infection
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Received donated blood or organs before 1992
- Have been exposed to blood on the job through a needle stick or injury with a sharp object
- Are on hemodialysis
For More Information/Get Tested
Contact one of our community organizers at (323) 257-1056 and make an appointment to get tested.